Friday, 27 July 2012

Karamoja May Be Forgotten, but It's Still Beautiful and Captivating

Is it not absurd the phrase “we shall not wait for Karamoja to develop” though said half jokingly may actually be true. It looks like people in this region are left behind. The area could pass for another country altogether. But it is from the bad roads that it all begun there is a way but barely a road.

The scenery is amazing there are many plants and trees it is so green and the air is so fresh. You would want to put your head out of the car to breathe in all the fresh air. When we reached Kween District, the ride turned bumpy, we had to fasten our belts and hold tight on the handles on top of the car door. But even that did not stop us from bumping around in our seats as we travelled.

Getting there
The first 30km or so of the murram road after Mbale were fairly passable. It is after we went past Chepsikunya that our troubles begun. There were gutters so deep that the car tyres sunk into them yet it was a fairly big car. At one point, the driver almost failed to control the car as it kept on sliding in the mud. Somehow we managed to get out of it. Then we got stuck at another point and after one hour, the only taxi that operates between Mbale and Karamoja passed by and helped pull us out. As we moved on, the car slid and we knocked a truck that was stuck in the mud. A window got shattered but thankfully no one was hurt. Later, we were pulled out of that ditch too only to get stuck in another. Then, the four wheel drive system got faulty, we could neither reverse nor move forward. It was 7pm and we were close to Amuru but those coming from there told us there were more such ditches ahead. We decided not to move any further. It was a scary idea, we were in a game reserve. Thankfully, we had company; there were 20 trucks and about 10 smaller cars.

A night in the cold
One of the trucks belonged to a trader dealing in merchandise. When it dawned on him that he would have to spend the night there. He decided to turn his truck into a kiosk. Before long, there were drinks, both hard and soft, on sale as well as snacks. Being close to Mountain Napak, it was so chilly in the night. As we headed to the car to sleep, one of the traders advised us to be careful if we decided to make use of the bush to ease ourselves. He said leopards usually came out of the bush at night. I remembered an earlier conversation where some of the traders mentioned that they sometimes spend a week on the road because of the bad roads. They knew the place better than us. We had to believe them. They also said when it rains, it floods. As we slept, our only prayer was that it would shine bright at dawn. And it did.
We woke up to see the sun rising behind the mountain. In a way, that sight made sleeping in the car worthwhile. At 1pm, we managed to leave the game reserve and we were in Nakapiripirit two hours later. Nonetheless, Karamoja is a beautiful place especially because of the landscape and the people. The females are mostly tall, slender and shapely. Apart from the Pokot who are majorly of a light skin complex, the rest are dark skinned. They have longish small faces with precise facial features. But the Karimajong are not at the centre of life in the region’s towns; instead it is the Bagisu, who are fluent in Luganda. In Amuro, Nakapiripirit and Amudat towns that I visited, most of the business people were Bagisu. So, even the few income-generating activities that the Karimajong would engage in have been occupied. A few of the women trade in vegetables at a small scale.
Karamoja relies heavily on Mbale for most of the commodities they use. There was no fuel at a petrol station in Nakapiripirit because the truck transporting it from Mbale was stuck in the same area we had been. In one restaurant, our tea could not be served with ginger because it had not arrived from Mbale. Those in Amudat district get their commodities from Kenya as they are closer to the border between Kenya and Uganda. Public transport is poor. Boda bodas are few and there is only one taxi that travels from Karamoja to Mbale and back. The number of routes made depend on how bad the roads are.
The night the driver helped us, one of the passengers said bus companies that used to travel there stopped because they spend a lot on transport. She said everyone has abandoned them and even take from them the only treasure they seem to have stones that are ferried to Tororo as raw material for cement.
Bright colours
The telecommunications network coverage is very poor. Newspapers are delivered two or three days late, in rainy seasons they are delivered after a week. But the security is better now though there is still the fear of travelling after it is dark.
The women dress in brightly coloured clothes especially skirts with pleats. Perhaps, it is these brightly coloured clothes that bring life to the area that is generally poverty stricken. The people living in towns and trading centers are more friendly than those in the villages who are also not as friendly. But the towns are still graced by huts mainly built in the manyatta style.

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